Why Sociology is a Good Optional Subject for Civil Services Exam?

The way civil services has evolved in recent times, the emphasis of the optional subject has only grown by leaps and bounds. Make no mistake, the optional subject has the potential to make or break your fortune in this examination. As marks in GS mains has started plateauing thus the difference created by optional score has become instrumental in finalizing the rank. An exceptional score here can land you among the top ranks thus fulfilling your dream. A below par score can only prolong your preparation. Thus, the optional subject must be finalized with due diligence and after considering all the possible subjects which suit the best interest of the aspirant.

One must not be carried away by the market trends because that is not going to take you anywhere unless you have a deep interest in the subject. Until you start enjoying the subject chosen you cannot score good marks. It’s imperative to love the subject first because you would be required to delve deep into the subject and may be required to study it for a few years. Also, a lot many study materials including several books would be essential to cover the syllabus of the particular subject. So optional subject is not the one to be decided in a haste. Give due time, weigh your interest and then accordingly take a choice.

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Now, I tend to assume that you appreciate the importance of the optional subject. So the question may arise “which is the best optional”? There is no perfect answer to this but it varies from person to person. I have written a separate article on “How to Choose Optional Subject”? You may refer to that for understanding the methodology of selecting the Optional subject. Here, the purpose of this article is to highlight why Sociology can be a wonderful option for you.

Studying the content of sociology optional in UPSC was to learning with fun as I got to know more about the society, its structure, institutions, social changes, social problems etc. You will feel like you are getting to know your own society better. We never try to think on those lines about various aspects of society from an academic point of view. But this sociology optional subject gives you that opportunity to appreciate the positive things in society and recognize the negative things, say the problems of society. You can really connect yourself to every topic being studied because you have grown in society and somewhere have been touched and affected by those issues.

Frankly speaking, sociology removes the barrier between you and society and takes you closer to the roots & pillars of the society.

After studying Sociology optional in UPSC, I felt that I have become an aware citizen and have a better understanding of my society. And If I get to become an IAS, I would be in a better position to address the social problems being the agents of change in society. To bring the changes in society, one must be able to trace the roots of social problems, understand them at a deeper level, relate yourself to the people and can see the issues at a broader level from the multidimensional point of view. Sociology being the science of society can fetch you that deeper and broader understanding of society.

That was my realization what made me appreciate the beauty of this subject. Apart from that, talking about the scores, this subject has not disappointed me either. In hindsight, I can say this with the conviction that selecting Sociology was the decision which made me successful in this exam. The first attempt, with haphazardous preparation and incomplete coverage of syllabus, I could score just below average score (200 in 2014 mains). Come next attempt, I was well prepared and the scores were really surprising. I scored one of the highest in the country (257 in 2015 mains) and the average score in an optional subject that year were around 220. In 2017 mains also, I could score 280.

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What I mean to say is that, once you have prepared well covering the sociology syllabus for IAS and having practiced answer writing, you are bound to get a good score. This is one of the most consistent subjects without much of unpredictability and randomness. In fact, sociology optional is scoring. I have had good experience with sociology optional for IAS. I am not going to compel you to take this subject only. But I am going to discuss the several positives of the subject which may enable you to take an informed decision. You have to decide for yourself, what suits you best and where can you perform the best. This may take some time but it is worth it.

In continuation of the above discussion, what follows below are the factors that make Sociology a good and highly preferred optional subject.

Size of the Syllabus

This is one of the primary factors which should be considered while choosing any optional. Because the early you can finish the syllabus the more time you can get to go for second revision and sociology optional notes making. Generally, science subjects have the long syllabus and may take around 7-8 months for preparation if starting afresh. But that is not the case with Sociology optional in UPSC.

The sociology syllabus for IAS is quite precise and concise. Both papers divided into several parts are further divided into subparts and subsequently, each subpart does mention the topics name. E.g. Part B, Paper 2 syllabus of Sociology refers to the Caste system. But further subparts have mentioned the topics to be studied such as Perspective of few thinkers, Features of the Caste system and Untouchability. You are neither required to know everything about the caste system nor supposed to read many books on the caste system. One has to restrain himself while finishing the syllabus. The preciseness of Sociology syllabus for IAS makes it easier to finish the syllabus in the least of time. But just to caution you, syllabus size should not be the sole criteria to choose an optional subject. Your decision must be based after analyzing all the factors holistically.

I have already discussed at length in this article that Sociology syllabus is quite familiar with the daily life of a member of the society. What we see in society would be part of the syllabus. The subject matter is highly relevant to getting a better picture of Indian society. The deeper understanding of own society would truly enable one to become the agent of change at grass root level. If you go through the syllabus, you may feel a sense of comfort and familiarity with the topics.

You may have a fair enough idea of subject matter such as Caste system, tribal communities problems, Social class, family & marriage, religion, population issues, industrialization, informal sector, patriarchy & women issues etc. It’s just that you have to understand these issues in a structured pattern from a sociological point of view. That would make the difference to answers and fetch good scores as well. Also, you will find a lot of inter-linkages between different parts of the syllabus. That would make it easy to interrelate the content and produce a good answer. Overall sociology content would not be required to be studied in isolation but in an integrated way which would be good for understanding and finishing the sociology syllabus for IAS in time.

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Open to all Academic Background

Coming from a technical background, options of choosing the subject before I was limited since I had no background in humanities. But having gone through the sociology syllabus for IAS, basic reading materials and previous year papers, I developed the feeling that I can do well in this subject. Such is the subject-matter of Sociology that it gives you that belief of doing well. To get such confidence while choosing any subject is important as that makes things easier thereafter.

This is one of those subjects which requires no prior expertise of subject matter to excel in the exam. You start from scratch and you can do wonders by end of a year or so. That is the reason why Sociology has been a most sought after subject across the backgrounds. That also gets reflected in the increasing number of aspirants writing mains with sociology and candidates getting selected. You can find sociology optional trend in UPSC. It does not matter which background (Engineering, medical, Accountancy etc.) you come from, if you are unable to choose the subject to best of your interest then you can give a try to Sociology. I am sure, it won’t disappoint you given you do the basics well.

Availability of Reading Materials

The mains syllabus of any subject takes the aspirant into the depth of the subject. You would be required to develop a sound understanding of the basic concepts so as to apply them later. The coverage of syllabus is must get a good score in the exam. All these require qualitative study materials to be studied for the particular subject.

It’s important to check whether enough materials are available in the market at your place or available online. If you don’t have the background in the subject then you would be highly dependent on the study materials being new to the subject. So please enquire this before you finalize your subject. This may seem to be a small thing from preparation point to view but can make a big difference to your score. All efforts would go in vain if not moving on the right track so you need to weigh your options accordingly.

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Overlapping with Essay and GS

At the outset, I would like to make it clear that this should not be strong criteria to select the optional subject. You should definitely go by your interests in the subject and play to your strengths. But if you have decided to go by sociology optional in UPSC then it does comes with some added advantages. You would appreciate that in Essay paper, you will find at least one topic overlapping with the subject matter of Sociology. That may be related to Social Justice, Women issues, social transformation in India etc.

The sociological background may give you an edge in the essay paper. Also, Paper 1 syllabus in GS related to Indian Society would not require any special preparation. That’s not the end, your sociological insight may have an impact on your answers throughout the mains answers making them pragmatic, diverse and connected to grass root reality. Believe me or not, but this subject will help you throughout the journey of Civil services and thereafter as well in life.

Is Sociology a Safe optional?

I find it quite amusing but there are talks in preparation circle whether an optional is safe or not. Frankly speaking, there are no criteria to reach out to any such conclusion. Because people get selected from all subjects whether that be Sociology, Chemistry, Agriculture, Maithili, Philosophy, Botany or any other subject for that matter. Always, have the right mindset while preparation that it’s not the subject but the individual who scores. your score does not depend on the subject or how others have performed but how well prepared you were. Its individualistic in nature and don’t develop the habit of unnecessary comparisons. However, it cannot be denied that civil services have some element of unpredictability and uncertainty.

Each year you may find the variation in mains score across the subjects. So, there is a palpable fear among the aspirants with certain subjects. But Sociology for IAS is certainly not one of them. It has been one of the most consistent subjects in recent past. You would find a large number of successful candidates with Sociology as their subject. Sociology optional trend in UPSC is increasing.

The longevity of preparation

I have already discussed before that Sociology is one of those subjects with the precise syllabus which makes it easier to prepare. This would ensure the duration of preparation to be on the shorter side. If you devote 3-4 hours on a daily basis, then it may take around 3-4 months for preparation. This is really a short duration compared to the time taken for preparing science optional subjects. The shorter phase of preparation would enable you to strengthen your grip over the subject with subsequent revision and preparation of sociology optional notes (short notes). But this should not be the sole criteria to choose this subject. You must have that genuine interest in this subject to do well.

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Sharpening of Answer Writing Skills

I have discussed the positives of the sociology optional for IAS so far. But now I would like to caution you that this subject requires good writing skills. And you would be required to practice a lot in sociology. It depends on how you take It. If you are averse to writing answers then it’s advisable not to go with it. But anyway, you can’t escape writing answers in GS. So why not take up the challenge and sharpen your writing skills. Entire mains is about writing descriptive answers only. The earlier you start improving this skill, the sooner you will taste success. Here Sociology can help you a lot. Writing humanities answers sharpen the skills and you would get better with structuring,

presentation, articulation and thus at producing a well-organized answer. This would enable you to write good GS answers & Essay and that can make a significant difference to your mains score.


Given the broad syllabus of Civil Services, it is required that one delves into the depth of sociology exploring the subject with interest in an organized manner. Such is the nature of Sociology optional in UPSC, one can easily deviate from the topic and thus waste time studying what may not be needed from exam point of view. Also, you cannot afford to pick thick sociological books given the perpetual paucity of time with civil aspirants. You would be required to plan your study as per the sociology syllabus for IAS. Here effective guidance would be indispensable. Given that humanities subject demands rigorous answer writing practice, you have to not just keep writing but keep improving as well. You must get the guidance of an expert in the field. It is always better to be prepared well for the battle to get an edge over the competitors.

Sociology is a good optional but you have to prepare well to realize that. If you put the sincere efforts into the preparation, this subject would definitely fetch the desired results to fulfill your dreams. But don’t fall for the subject because of the obvious positives. Every subject has both pros and cons. It depends on how you play to your strengths while working on the weaknesses. I did choose it and this subject worked wonders for me. It may not work for you. So, don’t go by other opinions and the trends in the market. Please follow your heart and mind. Have your own analysis based on your interests and strengths. Ultimately, it is you who have to prepare the subject and it must appeal to you. If you feel that passion and urge to go with it, then go ahead. Give your best and leave the rest to karma. You will definitely get what you rightly deserve.

All the best!

[Written by Rohit Kumar – IRS officer 2016 Batch. Alumnus: IIT, Delhi (B.Tech)]

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